For those of us who have jobs and families and can't spend ALL our time obsessing about MMA, the Bellator events have been worth keeping an eye on for two reasons. First there's the stream of highlight reel finishes coming out of the tournaments. Secondly, there are a few fighters who had built reputations before getting into the Bellator shark tank.
Some of those guys, notably touted featherweight Wilson Reis and Jorge Masvidal have already been the victims of upset losses.
Two others, probably the two biggest names in the promotion have advanced to the finals of their respective classes: lightweight Eddie Alvarez and middleweight Hector Lombard.
Their opponents aren't intimidated though. Alvarez' opponent in the lightweight finals, Toby Imada has this to say about his highly touted foe:
"I think it’s a great matchup. I’m actually looking forward to fighting Eddie Alvarez more than my fight against Jorge Masvidal. He’s not really considered a counter striker –- really I just think of him as another guy that has a lot going for him – I’m looking forward to June 19th and beating him."
Imada is right not to be intimidated. Despite Alvarez' status as the #4 lightweight in the world in the USAT/SBN Consensus MMA rankings, Imada has a strong chance to pull off the upset. He's riding an eight-bout win streak spanning back to January 27, 2007. Of his those 8 wins, 6 have come by way of submission and 5 occurred within the 1st round. Alvarez' last loss was to submission specialist Shinya Aoki. If Imada can survive Alvarez' assault on the feet, he could win it on the ground.
For his part, former All American wrestler Jared Hess (not to be confused with the guy who co-created Napoleon Dynamite) isn't intimidated by Olympic judoka Hector Lombard either. Talking to Sergio Non:
As far as judo goes, I'm not really too worried about. Obviously I've seen Karo Parisyan, one of the top judo guys in the world, be very effective with his throws and stuff in MMA.
But really, as far as judo goes in MMA, it's really hard to throw and take someone down and stuff like that without a gi in judo. I've worked with a lot of judo guys and stuff like that. To get a really good throw, you need a gi. Not always, obviously, stuff happens, but I think for wrestling, as long as you know your positioning, especially in the clinches and ties, it's really hard for a judo guy to throw.
So as far as his judo background and stuff like that, I'm not really worried about. I think my wrestling's better.
But for sure his hands are one thing that I have to worry about, because in MMA, it just takes that one uppercut or that one punch to end the fight. That's more what I'm worried about.
It's true we haven't seen Lombard bust out many judo moves in MMA events. He's much more in the style of Yoshihiro Akiyama, a guy who uses his excellent balance and takedown defense to keep the fight standing so he can use his powerful hands.
Personally, I'd like to see all four guys win, but at the end of the day, Imada and Hess have already gotten big boosts from being in the Bellator tournament. The highly touted Alvarez and Lombard are the ones in must win positions. Although I'm told that Bellator pays very well, well enough for someone like Alvarez to take the risk of losing to an unranked fighter.
BTW, the entire Hess interview at USA Today is a must read. Jared is sharper than your average fighter and Sergio really gets him to open up about fight strategy, his tactical plan for Lombard, the business of MMA and the economics of Olympic wrestling vs MMA. Really a must-read.